Warren King: the engineering of emotions

The Arts Night is one of the most attended arts events in Helsinki: museums and galleries open their doors late, all kind of spaces (studios, libraries, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, homes…) organize happenings and the streets are crowded with people of all ages.

Out of the many events taking place this 25th August (http://www.helsinginjuhlaviikot.fi/taiteidenyo/), I recommend not missing the meeting with Warren King at Galleria Sculptor just across the Kaupatori/Kauppahalli (Etäläranta, 14 – see map below).

IMG_4722This Stockholm-based American artist (soon to be living in NYC) will certainly inspire you: firstly because his path to art was not typical. Instead of art school, he studied to be an engineer and worked in construction for several years.  And then he jumped on the technology wave and worked for software startups in Palo Alto for over 10 years. It was always a loving hobby for him to amuse his children by making masks and costumes, but it was only three years ago that he took THE big “creative” leap and turned this hobby into an art career making stunning cardboard sculptures. This quest to reach out to our creative selves is in the air of our “innovation” intensive era and Warren King is a remarkable example of how creativity can turn into artistry and bring out a world of shared emotions.




The second reason I recommend meeting Warren King and his art work this Thursday (the show runs until 4th September), is the manner in which he tackles the issue of “identity”. The catalyst to his artistic work was the return visit of his entire family to their ancestral village in China, a village his grandparents left after the Chinese Civil War.  The people and the surroundings had not changed much, which was surprising considering the speed at which China destroys its villages to be able to build cities. But this reinforced the feeling of belonging to the place.  King was born and raised in the US, so the reconnection to this village was very emotional — especially because several villagers that he met on the street that day actually remembered, and resembled, his grandparents from 50 years ago.  But soon King experienced the limits of his newly “recovered ” Chinese identity: because he was the product of another culture, this Chinese heritage could never be fully restored.

DSC_0301Where do migrants belong?
 This is certainly a rich area to explore, because so many of us are expatriates at one moment of our lives and build our belonging to several cultures, tie our personal history to several places, sometimes not even reflected in our names or IDs but present forever on our minds, in our behaviors, our ways to fathom the world around us, even unconsciously. In his Helsinki exhibition, King has rebuilt this encounter with people in his grandfather’s village of origin in China, creating a human-size cardboard sculpture per encounter: an old couple here, a man watching him pass by there, etc. This project to recreate the villagers as sculptures seems to be a quest by the artist to understand WK quelques personnageswho he is.

The third reason for you to visit this exhibition is the masterfulness of this emerging
artist at conveying emotions with sculptures made of cardboard: the faces are expressive without the addition of any colour or material, they have a narrative posture and seem to be saying something.  He truly brings this disposable material to life. King makes no secret about the structure of his statues: if you turn around them, you will see that their back is revealed, enabling you to see how the various pieces are held together with glue, clips, etc.)
Finally, in this exhibition you will also be able to admire the meditative piece find yourself lose yourself” by TN10, the exciting artistic collaborative team of King and Joanne Grüne-Yanoff.
Kudos to Galleria Sculptor that had the brilliant idea of inviting King and signing the thrilling debut of TN10.
More information about King can be found on his website:  www.wrnking.com; TN10’s website is www.TN10art.com.
The full list of Arts Night events can be found here http://www.helsinginjuhlaviikot.fi/taiteidenyo/
Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff says it’s “Okay!” – and glam! it is.

Have you ever wondered what happens to artists who walk in our hearts? My experience is that they stay there forever: they shake you, their work resonates… ! Last year, as Joanne Grüne-Yanoff was still living under Finnish skies, I had the privilege to attend her distinctive Finnish shows, and also visit her studio, to discuss her work at length. Now that she lives in Stockholm (a city to keep under watch regarding its contemporary art) and exhibits at the epicentre of contemporary art (Berlin), the beat goes on and on… with “Okay!” a multimedia exhibition where every piece resonates with the other.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff FeatherBox(videostillThat'sOkay!) 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff FeatherBox(videostill "That'sOkay!") 2011

– Your current work in the Berlin exhibition”Okay!” at Galerie Helga Maria Bischoff  seems to burst with glamour (the use of the feathers surrounding the “Feather Box (that’s okay!)” video, for example, like a cushion of personal comfort, or “Feather Point” the video with the feet on feathers; a freed sensual layer on your unchanged conceptual vocabulary, which is now enriched by video. Have you used video as a form of expression before?

– I have been walking around with a secret stash of videos in my pocket for years; last year, I let Kalhama & Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki see a few, and they had a great response, and immediately chose one to show at their summer exhibition in Savonlinna.  I thought Berlin was a good place to begin showing more, and that will continue.

– Can you talk about the idea of glamour and the videos?

In the split-screen video object (Feather Box (that’s okay!), I liked the softness and luxury of this feather nest that the viewer walks up to, only to find this intense woman, repeatedly assuring “That’s ok!” in smiling jump cuts, while on the other side, crossed legs calmly sit, crashing eggshells to the ground.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Featherpoint (videostill) 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Featherpoint" (videostill) 2011

Similarly, in the video “Feather Point” two feet carefully, cautiously, feel out their surroundings, trying from time to time to stand on point, trying, nearly doing, coming back down, trying again; the sound of something creaking – maybe bone, maybe wood, maybe some outside shift – as accompaniment to the sometimes falling feathers.

The dichotomies presented are underscored by sound; it gives rawness and fragility to the seamlessness of the videos, marking them with a different speed and energy, breaking the quiet poetry of the feet, crashing the developed surface of the smiling woman, the controlled legs.

The videos are seductive and poignant and beautiful and dark and brutal and painful. I suppose glamour can be summarized similarly.

– Do you think that your use of materials, say, in the cases we just talked about, are particularly feminine?

I would posit that because I am a woman, the use of materials is viewed as particularly feminine. If I were a man, the use of materials would be viewed as containing a boldness, profundity, irony, complexity, strength, etc.  Yawn.

– Matthew Barney comes immediately to mind

– Or Broodthaers’ use of eggshells, Mike Kelly’s knitted objects, Beuys putting things in glass vitrines, Duchamp in cages, Hirst’s use of sparkles and butterflies, Cornell’s boxes… The issue is not the endless list of male artists that have not been called on for a feminine use of materials, but the manner of seeing through lenses that correlate the feminine with weakness and the masculine with strength, which, of course, is another conversation.

– Continuing along gender lines, in a recent article in the Berlin magazine J’N’C, you were compared to

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Shell Wing Slippers" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Shell Wing Slippers" 2011

female Bruce Nauman. I like this comparison: You create an hypnotic tension in the videos; they can make people uncomfortable in “Feather Point”, for example, we have the sound of cracking bones and muscles stretching to the point that they shake, close to breaking, etc. and at the same time, they are so aesthetically pleasing (a dancer’s shaped pair of legs,  feathers falling like snow in a Robert Frost poem). They really lure you in and hold you there, in a very unsettling, sometimes even painful, place.  Maybe your insistence on maintaining beauty while expressing such complex darkness is what makes the female part of the comparison.  What do you think? 

I think it’s a tremendous compliment, however you cut it.

– With this exhibition, you also reveal more of yourself – you use your image in the videos, in the drawings.

I have used my own image for years, and that has been out of necessity.  I’m generally around and available, and I grasp quickly what needs to come across.

– The piece Butterfly Box (Mütter Museum) is one of my favourite pieces from your current exhibition. Can you talk a little bit about that?  Where does it come from?


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "ButterflyBox (MütterMuseum)" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Butterfly Box (MütterMuseum)" 2011

When I was a child, I often went the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, USA. The Mütter is a museum originally founded to educate future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies. My father, a physician, often brought me there when I was a little kid, and for me it was a portal to another world. Fantastic.

There were shelves of fascinating objects like old medical instruments, anatomical and pathological specimens and models, and row upon row of drawers to open filled with such things as models of eardrums. I loved that place, opening and closing drawers, peering into jars, staring at a skeleton of a woman whose rib-cage was compressed by tight lacing. Such stories in these objects – each, a microcosm of a secret world.  That place certainly impacted the work I make; the quiet there, the sound of the drawers opening, the smells, the light — all etched inside me. The box is part of that – an echo of those hours.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Wings, Pins, Spine" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Wings, Pins, Spine" 2011

In this exhibition, “Butterfly Box (Mütter museum)” finds an apparent

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Float" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Float" 2011

resonance/continuity with the superb and airy “Wings, Pins, Spine” that is very close to the work I saw last year at Kalhama&Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki (Joanne Grüne-Yanoff encased materials like eggshells, butterfly wings, moss, honey, feathers, etc. in everyday PVC). Can you talk about the symbolism of the materials in your work and that piece?

In my work, wings represent the constant presence of change, feathers the (human) desire to be something else, eggshells the tenacity and fragility of life. I take walks, in life, in general, and collect things.  In “Wings, Pins, Spine” I liked the idea of taking these everyday treasures, often organic, and often revered to the point of kitsch, and encasing them in something also everyday, decidedly human-made and not organic, looked down upon to the point of being demonized. I like that these fragile found bits, caught in time, are held forever, in shapes that will stay as they are, representing change.  The piece is a delicate series of dualities, held together by fine, sharp pins, to create a spine.

– You studied literature and love the strengths and materiality of words. What is the relation of your visual work with text?

It’s all storytelling of one sort or another. Over the years my work has contained a certain automatic writing. Thoughts and ideas come up and go onto and into the work; a catharsis that in the past I kept relatively unintelligible, so that it wouldn’t become too didactic. Now the text is entirely readable.  There is movement toward a more direct interaction.

Joanne Grüne Yanoff "Round" 2011

Joanne Grüne Yanoff "Round" 2011

– I love your ability to explore materials and employ a variety of media to support your poetical expression – this exhibition alone spans from works on paper to sculpture, and video, all in a tight dialogue, each enriching the other – recalling the versatility of  Rebecca Horn, Ann Hamilton and the already referred to Bruce Nauman and Matthew Barney. Still, I wonder if you are ever tempted about narrowing your focus to one form? 

Well, I just make stuff.  I often try to stay in one media or another, but certain ideas call for certain materials in my head. So that’s that.


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Message" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Message" 2011


FROM JOANNE GRÜNE-YANOFF’s WORK http://www.joannegruneyanoff.com/ 

* Joanne’s exhibition “You Walked In My Heart And The Beat Goes On” at Kalham&Piippo Contemporary http://www.kalhamapiippo.com/ – more details in Joanne’s portrait  http://ruxandrabp.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/joanne-grune-yanoff-an-artist’s-walk-in-our-hearts/

** http://www.hmbischoff.com/ Joanne’s exhibition “Okay!” from 29th October to 26th November. The portofolio of her exhibition is available here http://hmbischoff.com/files/okayportfolios.pdf 

Text: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti